I suffer at times. We all do, don’t we? Pretending the opposite would just mean that I’m in denial. Not really the point of writing articles here and sharing my thoughts with you, right?
Having been lucky enough to live in different places around the world, I’ve met so many different individuals, and I have always been fascinated by what leads us to pain and suffering, whether it is physical or emotional pain. I know that Yoda pretty much covered the whole topic with his famous ‘Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering’ line, but I’m a very cocky person (some would say that I’m just very French) and I decided to be a bit more eloquent than the Jedi Master.
Because even though studying what leads to suffering can be interesting, I have always considered that the only thing that truly matters is not what happened in the past but what can be done right now to improve the situation.
I have gathered four key points that seem very important to me. But before talking about the four things that might help you out, I believe I need to talk about a very important element that many of us don’t realize: pain and suffering are two different things.
Suffering is different from pain
Pain is one of my favorite topics. If you’ve ever had an osteopathic session with me, you might have noticed that I spend quite a lot of time explaining to my patients how pain works. I am not a neuroscience nerd (I’m definitely not smart enough), but basically what I know is that pain is extremely complex and functions as an alarm system that is used as a defense mechanism to indicate that something is perceived as a danger.
The word “perceived” explains why you can sometimes have a lot of pain even though nothing is happening, or no pain at all when you have tons of damage. It all comes down to how your system interprets the situation. And this is definitely not a conscious process. Hence you can’t just say ‘Let’s not to have pain today’. Your system needs to see that there’s no/less danger.
Still, let me share with you a sentence I keep on hearing from my patients after our sessions:
‘I still feel some pain but I don’t suffer from it anymore’
You should also see the face of my clients when they say that, as it is the precise moment they realize pain and suffering are two different things. They suddenly understand that their ailment was constituted of a big chunk of suffering but that the pain itself is sometimes very mild. They even sometimes realize suffering was 100% of the problem.
Anybody who’s ever felt some pain for a reason they understand and/or chose can relate to that.
If you’ve ever:
- had a tattoo
- had a surgery that you understood or wanted to have
- saw a dentist who’s explained to you what you will feel and hear, and either it might be painful or not
- saw a kid crying after a fall and starting to joyfully run just after a kiss from their mom
then you might know that pain and suffering are two different things.
Don’t get me wrong, all that was probably very painful. You saw how the kid cried and seemed to be in pain but was actually more scared than anything. If you have a beautiful butterfly tattooed on your lower back (please don’t do that), you might have noticed that even though getting the tattoo was quite painful, you didn’t suffer much from it. It felt a bit as if you were distant. The pain was treated as pure information, with no added emotion linked to it.
Pain is what is felt, whereas suffering is the additional layer of fear that is applied on top of pain because you can’t make sense of it. And there are ways to suffer less.
He who fears he will suffer, already suffers because of his fear– Montaigne
Okay, that’s lovely but what about emotional suffering? Thanks for asking! Well, guess what, all that I’ve just talked about above applies to mental health too. If one day you decide to hire me for a meditation session, you’ll see we come back to the physical sensations instead of deciding that meditation is to calm our mind.
Movement patterns and thought patterns are just patterns, end products of complex reactions happening in us. If you want to learn how to suffer more, just check on the bonus at the end of this article. But if suffering less is the reason why you’ve been reading this article so far, here are my four pieces of advice to you.
How to suffer less: four ways that can help
1/ Learn about pain mechanisms
Let’s start with an easy one. As mentioned above, pain is complex. Chances are 99% of what you know about pain is horseshit. Why? Because 99% of what you know about pain is very likely to have been passed on to you by:
- your parents
- your family
- your friends
- your teachers who learned it from their teachers
- a healthcare practitioner who knows fuck-all about pain mechanisms
- culture and society
and what they know about pain is horseshit.
Luckily these days, you can find an amazing amount of information online and learn about pain so you can understand how it works. Knowledge is a great source of resilience as it will help to reduce the fear of the unknown.
Learning about pain mechanisms doesn’t mean that you are going to become a very knowledgeable specialist – and honestly, you don’t need to – but it means that you are going to embark on a journey that is extremely empowering. Seriously, you will learn not only about how pain works but it will also:
- change your conception of the world
- change the ideas you have about your body
- make you so much more confident
- make you question some of the cultural opinions you have, starting from how pain works of course
Can you imagine how all that would impact your physical and mental health? Also, if you are a therapist, can you imagine how this could help your patients? All that is about unlocking our thought process. All that is about moving freely.
There are many resources that are amazing but one of my favorites is Recovery Strategies by Greg Lehman (Free).
2/ Learn how to move freely
Movement is known for being one of the best ways to reduce pain. You will learn about that if you follow my first advice. Also, as stated before, I do not believe stretching is such a powerful tool. But, movement is not stretching. The first element that is almost constantly overlooked by patients (and therapists) is that, unless you are in a very specific situation such as rehab following surgery, moving must feel good and fun.
I do not know what kind of society tells people with back pain they need to go swimming because ‘it’s good for your back’. What if people hate swimming? Where the fuck is the joy of moving? We tend to believe that the goal of sport is to build muscle, but there’s much more to it.
So the first question I ask my patients is ‘What do you like?’. Some people like to walk, some people like rock climbing, and some people like yoga. Some people like sports because it allows them to meet people, and some people like it because it allows them to finally be on their own without having to listen to the entire world telling them what they should be doing with their life.
But one of the aspects of movement that I barely hear about is how movement is an amazing way for your nervous system to realize that there is no danger. And if less danger is perceived, fewer defenses are needed: in other words less tension, less pain, less suffering.
Luckily enough, we are seeing more and more people guiding others in this direction. Here is a short list of people you can find on Instagram:
Another kind of movement that I find very interesting is Somatics, by Thomas Hanna. And remember: 10 minutes a day is better than 0 minutes a day. Repetition is how we learn, and this is all a learning process.
3/ Learn to listen
This is the core of my what I offer. As I always say, I use osteopathy to help my patients, but meditation is for people who want to help themselves. Why? Because as mentioned above, suffering is like an additional layer to pain. It can be physical pain or emotional pain, it doesn’t matter, if you avoid it, you will suffer.
Meditation is actually about this: for once, instead of running away, instead of building up suffering, you stay with the pain, and even scarier, you embrace it.
When working as an osteopath, I spend my day seeing people who have been running away from their pain because of fear. Fear of being broken, fear of feeling more pain, fear of life. This process might have been going on for years. When they come to see me, I hold a space for them. A space where they can surrender for once and let Life unfold. I show them, through touch, that they don’t need to run away and to use some avoidance mechanisms. And what was felt as a threat is finally seen as something that is not as scary, something that is not perceived by the system as a threat. Meditation is about holding space for yourself.
Now, the thing is that you can learn how to do it for yourself. How? Every time you feel something, be it pain, sadness, anger, tension, etc., just try to dive in. Bring your awareness inward and stay with the qualities that are present. Instead of using words such as ‘I am angry’, orient your attention inward and feel as if you wanted to describe what anger is to a 5 years old.
If you do so, you will start to create a small space for the sensation to unfold. The energy that was used to maintain the tension will now be available for you to feel, hence the space will become wider and allow you to face tensions that are stronger. Rinse, repeat. You are meditating. Keep it simple.
4/ Apply all that to your life
So one could definitely argue that suffering is a very complex topic, depending on a lot of different factors. As you’ve noticed if you are still with me here, I haven’t talked about diet, social life, sleep, etc. But, I have given you tools that have helped me tremendously in my life. Those tools are easily available. What do you need? A bit of time to read books or listen to some podcasts, and a body to move and meditate. Good thing we take it everywhere we go, right?
But the true reason why I’m talking about all that is because of how it can change the way you live your life:
- Understanding pain teaches you about how strong your body is and about how it functions
- Movement helps you to see your patterns, your limits, and how exploring different ways of moving can really lead you to experience how strong your body is.
- Meditation helps you to surrender and let life flow. This leads to not being attached to many things that have defined you so far.
Now, the thing is this article is called ‘how to suffer less’. Not how to move better. Still, my point is that suffering less mostly comes with our ability to go with the flow of life, come rain or shine. This requires us to know that we are stronger than we think, to experience it, and be able to let go of anything that is not useful anymore.
Knowledge. Movement. Meditation.
Those tools are a form of training for life. A bit like an osteopathic session on a much bigger scale. There will be waves, sensations, events, and pauses, but you’ll know how to go with the flow and how to let life unfold.
This is the usual space for me to try to sell you something. So here we go, if you feel like meditating with me, everything is written here.
Bonus: How to suffer more
How to suffer more:— JULES RAMPAL (@julesrampal) August 22, 2022
• Deny your needs
• Do not make a move when you feel deep down that’s what is needed
• Pretend you are a broken machine that is not resilient at all
• Believe people know what’s good for you
• Do not learn about your problem
• Avoid feeling the pain
– Jules Rampal